California Gulch  
USGS 7.5' Map: Handies Peak
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 2 CR 19, 9 4.90 11,360 to 12,880 ft. NA 1-2 hours
County: San Juan
Adopted by:      
Managed by: San Juan County 1557 Greene St, Silverton, CO 81433 (970)387-5766
Summary: California Gulch 4WD road heads west from the ghost town of Animas Forks passing the Frisco-Bagley Tunnel mill building. It heads up a wide valley passing the road up Placer Gulch, Cnty9, to a saddle and then crosses into Poughkeepsie Gulch, or connects with the Hurricane Pass, Cnty10, 4WD road.
Attractions: Mining, Scenic
Natural - Closed by heavy snows.
Best Time: June - May open in late June
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Snow may close the road
Trail Heads

Camping: There were no dispersed sites along the road.
Base Camp: This area would be a good place to base camp. There are many scenic 4WD roads and ghost towns in the area.
Fall Colors: Poor - This area is mainly open with few trees.
Navigation: From Silverton, CO. head northeast on Greene Street toward W 12th Street and go 0.4 miles. Turn right onto County Road 2 and go 7.7 miles. Turn left onto Animas Forks Road and go 0.4 miles. Take a slight left onto County Road 2 and go 3.3 miles. Turn left onto County Road 9. This road will go through the Ghost Town of Animas Forks and then turn to the west and head up California Gulch.
History: Animas Forks
In 1876 the Franciscan missionaries Domninguez and Escalante recorded the name of the river below California Gulch as "El Rio de las Animas", "River of Souls". In the 1870s the camp at the bottom of California Gulch, where the three branches come together, was called 'Three Forks' and 'Forks of the Animas', later becoming "Animas Forks" when the post office was established in 1875. In 1875 the Dakota and San Juan Mining company had planned on building a mill at Mineral Point, but due to difficult access the materials to build the mill were stuck at Burrows Park above Lake City. It was decided to build the mill at Animas Forks instead because of its easier access. In late 1976 the mill began processing ore with moderate success. With Animas Forks becoming a more substatial town, William Duncan build his home on an upper street above the business district in 1879. It became one of the most well know of ghost town houses with its large bay window on the first floor. In 1882 the strong jail was built below town. By 1901 Animas Forks was for the most part abandoned due to poor metals prices. In 1903 the Silverton and Northern railroad was being extended from Eureka to Animas Forks to serve the newly constructed Gold Prince Mill at Animas Forks. The town was revived and saw a lot of activity through 1904 when the rail line was completed. The Gold Prince Mill operated until 1910. In 1917 it was dismantled and used to build the Sunnyside Mill at Eureka. In 1936 the rails for the Silverton and Northern were removed.

Frisco-Bagley Mill
The Frisco-Bagley Mill, a State registered historical site, 5SA.165, was constructed in 1912. The Frisco Mill is a prefabricated building constructed on a massive post and beam design. The 150-ton ore concentration mill is made from pieces that were pre-cut, pre-fit, and coded with numbers and letters before being shipped to the site for assembly. This design increased the speed at which the building was constructed. The Bagley Tunnel was excavated between 1904 and 1911. It runs for nearly one and one-half miles and was one of the first examples of cross-cut tunneling in the area. By tunneling under Houghton Mountain the ore could be mined from below and then hauled out the tunnel to meet the needs of the mill. The tunnel is of a large size, and has a straight northwesterly course through Houghton Mountain. The tunnel accessed the mineral veins near the town of Mineral Point.

The "great bore" was started in 1904 and was planned to extend 2-1/2 miles. It was a development tunnel to provide a main haulage route to the mill and to cut through the major mineral veins perpendicularly so all veins could be mined. By 1907, the tunnel had advanced 400 feet and by 1911, it was at its completed length of 2-1/2 miles. The August 1912 Silverton Standard newspaper had the following description of the tunnel:
"The tunnel itself is one of the most perfect mining engineering feats and works ever performed in the San Juan district, it penetrates the center of Houghton Mountain on an even grade and is as straight as an arrow. The whole working system is lighted by [an] electric light system with powerful incandescent lights at frequent and regular intervals and when the mine is in full operation it presents a scene as enchanting as a fairyland picture."

At the Frisco Mill, ore cars approached the mill from a mine spur track and stopped on a scale to be weighed. They were then pushed across a bridge on to the porch at the back of the mill. On the other side of a large hole in the wall was a small ore bin that fed the primary crusher below. The cars were dumped and a mill man fed the crusher. This was a rod type, which looked like a long drum with one end higher than the other; as it turned, heavy alloy rods rolled inside to crush the ore. At the low end gravel sized pieces and powder fell into a hollow in the floor where the first lift belt raised the material 40 feet and dropped it into big ore bins. The bins gravity feed ore into secondary crushers. There were two of these very large and heavy cone crushers on massive concrete foundations. Gravel is reduced to powder in these machines and is dropped down into a hollow in the floor where the second lift belt raised the material 40 feet for its trip down through processing. Chlorine and water were mixed with the crushed ore, forming slime. At the end of the process large settling tanks were installed at the 3rd floor level. These were funnel shaped the smaller being 8 feet across and the larger 12 feet. There were 12 of these. These would separate heavy dense material from lighter sands. On the 2nd floor below these tanks many Wilfley tables worked the ore. These machines had a very stout base of iron and a mechanism for shaking the table top. Its motion was similar to an orbital sander. The top was adjustable with one end higher and one side higher. As the ore was fed on to the top the vibrating motion would begin to separate larger bits from small, and denser (heavier) from light as the ore moved along its length. The heavier and smaller pieces would "walk" to the high side, the heaviest being highest with the lightest at the bottom. This would separate into bands with the help of riffles in the top of the table. Water was added here as a wash and to help with motion. The bands of mineral would be identified by the operator and caught, dried, bagged, and then sent to the smelter.

By the mid-1870s the mines of Mineral Point reached a state of diminishing return. It became apparent that a more cost-effective way to handle the many tons of lower grade ore was needed. To reach these vast quantities of ore, it would be necessary to tunnel under them from a point lower than the rolling alpine area of Mineral Point. The most cost-effective location to accomplish this was on the other side of Houghton Mountain in California Gulch. The Bagley tunnel was started to go under the mountain, under the area of Mineral Point, with a proposed exit in Poughkeepsie Gulch near the San Juan Chief Mill, a straight-line distance of over three miles.

In 1877, the project was started under the name Bonanza Tunnel Company. The granite was slow to work, but needed very little timbering. In the early 1880s English capitalists purchased the Bonanza Tunnel project and founded the Silver Peak Mining and Smelting Co. During their tenure, new equipment was brought to the mine and the tunnel continued to advance. As the metals market raised and lowered then collapsed in 1893, work on the tunnel also started and stopped.

In 1903, Franklin Rockefeller and N.R. Bagley invested in the Bonanza Tunnel. By 1905, this new company had acquired 140 mineral claims in the Mineral Point area. It was then that the Frisco Mines and Tunnel Co. was organized and incorporated for 6 million dollars. It would not be long until the first major vein, "Hadley", would be crossed at 1600 feet from the entrance, and ore production would get underway. The first ores were processed at the Gold Prince Mill at Animas Forks a mere half mile away.

Gold Prince Mill in 1904

By 1911, the tunnel reached 7500 feet, the end result being a project of major proportions, even though the tunnel's full length was never reached.

When the Silverton Northern Railroad reached Animas Forks it drastically reduced transportation costs making the concentrate from low-grade ores economically feasible to mill. The Silverton Northern right of way crews graded a branch line up to the Frisco camp sometime after 1907. There is evidence of this grade utilizing two switchbacks however, rails were ever laid. All went well until the Gold Prince owners decided to move their mill down the canyon to Eureka. It was at this point the Frisco owners built the 150-ton reduction mill using the latest of equipment. In 1912, the Frisco Mill was completely electrically powered, as was the camp. The camp also had telephone service that was linked with Animas Forks and ran through Lake City. With the Gold Prince Mill gone there was no major employer besides the Frisco Mines and Tunnel Co. complex.

In 1910 a group of prospectors was sent to examine the vein of the old Red Cloud workings near Mineral Point and confirm that the vein's upper reaches held value. They affirmed this, and the Frisco-Bagely miners began driving a raise upward to the vein from within the Frisco-Bagley Tunnel. When miners found plenty of ore the Frisco Mill was built in 1912 to treat the material. The mill did fine with ore from the upper zone but was unable to process the material from depth. When the upper zone was exhausted, the company struggled and suspended operations in 1914.

Although not as prosperous as it was with the Gold Prince Mill working, the town of Animas Forks was kept alive with the continued work provided through the Frisco-Bagley mining complex. Animas Forks hung on in a marginal state until 1913, when the business district burned. Instead of rebuilding, most people left. Without a population the post office closed in 1915. Mine production at the Frisco-Bagley continued until the late 1920s.

Mountain Queen Mine
In 1877 local prospectors developed the Mountain Queen, at the head of California Gulch, into one of the Eureka district's most important producers. In 1882 the Mountain Queen got new owners and prepared to bring the mine into production. S.W. Thorne bought the mine for the high price of $125,000, which inspired confidence among other investors. Thorne pursued a development campaign and brought the mine into meaningful production. Shortly afterward, Thorne formalized the operation as the Mountain Queen Mining Company.

In 1885, due to the falling value of silver and other industrial metals, S.W. Thorne reduced the wages of his miners at the Mountain Queen from the already low rate of $3.00 per shift to $2.50 without reducing the price of room and board in tandem. Miners protested and threatened to strike. The miners union was in talks with the mine owners who agreed to a $3.50 per shift wage to avoid a strike. Thorne instead closed the Mountain Queen. When the investors found out about this, they fired him.

In 1900 a party of Ouray miners leased the Mountain Queen for several years and produced ore from the upper workings. Rasmus Hanson, in semi-retirement after his work in Placer Gulch, purchased the property in 1904 for $25,000 and completed needed development. Ready for production, Hanson convinced Cripple Creek interests to buy it for $100,000 in 1905. They organized the Mountain Queen Mining Company, invested heavily in a new surface plant, and commissioned a lower tunnel to undercut the shaft and develop the Mountain Queen Vein system.

During the 1907 recession, the Cripple Creek owners completed significant improvements and then sold to the Guggenheims. The Guggenheims installed new machinery and enjoyed good production. Later that year, an avalanche wrecked the surface plant. The company rebuilt the surface plant and kept the mine in production through 1910.

After World War I prices for metals dropped in the early 1920s. The Mountain Queen was among the mines brought back into meaningful production. In 1924, Mike Babich, Pete Dunk, and A.R. Walker leased the property, brought in their own equipment, and unwatered the shaft in preparation for production. By working small ore chutes and extracting fill from old stopes to process, they generated around five tons of ore per day. Even though the mine was largely exhausted after forty years of intermittent activity, they found enough payrock to sustain the lease for three years before moving on.

In 1938, C.R. Walker leased the Mountain Queen from owner Tyson Dines, bulldozed an access road, and hauled off waste rock as low-grade ore for processing. When this was gone by 1940, Walker hired five miners who installed a hoisting system and reopened the shaft. In 1941, they conducted exploration and found stringers of ore missed during the mid-1920s. These small chutes sustained minor production into World War II.

History Colorado San Juan County Online, 2015.
Twitty, Eric Historic Mining Resouces of the San Juan County, Colorado United States Department of the Interior: OMB No.1024-0018, Print.
Benson, Maxine 1001 Colorado Place Names University Press of Kansas, ISBN 0-7006-0633-5, 1994, Print.
Jessen, Kenneth Ghost Towns Colorado Style, Volumn 3, 1st ed. Loveland, Colorado: J.V. Publications, 2001. Print.
California Gulch begins at the ghost town of Animas Forks. There has been a large amount of restoration done to the majority of the buildings in the old town.
The Duncan House at Animas Forks

photo by:
Adam M

Duncan House sign   photo by: Adam M

Gold Prince Mill foundation at Animas Forks

photo by:
Adam M

View of Animas Forks from the Columbia Mine

photo by:
Adam M

The road up Californai Gulch leaves out of the north end of town. It is a bit rocky in spots. The road is about a lane and a half wide for its entire length, with a few tight sections. As you leave Animas Forks you will pass the Bagley Tunnel which has the remains of a large processing mill below the tunnel entrance. The mill and tunnel are on private property.
Bagley Tunnel Mill

photo by:
Adam M

Past the Bagley Tunnel you will slowly climb up the valley. Behind you will be the road up to Cinnamon Pass.
Looking back down California Gulch toward Animas Forks with Cinnamon Pass climbing the hill side

photo by:
Adam M

As you climb you will pass a lot of old tailings which dot the side of the valley. Most of these do not have any structures left on them. You will come to a left turn that takes you up Placer Gulch, Cnty 9. Stay on the California Gulch road and continue up the valley. Toward the top you will navigate a few long switchbacks that will eventually climb to the top of the ridge and California Pass.
The road up to California Pass above the Mountain Queen mine

photo by:
Adam M

California Pass sign

photo by:
Adam M

Data updated - January 30, 2016      4WD Road driven - August 11, 2015      Copyright - 2000-2016